The iPad, and other tablets around it, are coming into their own. As the medium matures, we are discovering new ways to exploit their abilities. One of the encouraging developments is the rise of the premium app. We all love the free or $0.99 app, but there is only so much we can expect for that price. Expectations and deliverables can and should be much higher at $9.99 or $13.99.
I have been exploring some of these premium apps over the past few weeks and have come away both impressed and disappointed. I am impressed by the unique capabilities tablets bring and the ingenuity displayed in exploiting them. We have incredible apps that explore the tiniest and grandest parts of the universe–the elements and the solar systems. Other apps lead us to a deeper appreciation of poetry or music. Yet the best of these apps explore God-given gifts and abilities without reference to God. The best apps are not directed to the best purpose.
The Elements: A Visual Exploration is a brilliant app that offers “the universal catalog of everything you can drop on your foot: the elements of your world and the basic stuff of all that is here or there or anywhere.” It offers two pages on each element: The first offers a close-up of that element (when it is visible) along with some of the scientific data; the second offers interesting, witty descriptions of it and how it is used. What it doesn’t offer is reflections on the God who created it all and who displays his glory through it. The app is incredible for what it is, and well worth the money, but it leaves you disappointed that it doesn’t connect the final dot to the Creator.
Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe
Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe received a lot of press when it first hit the app store. The app allows you to watch over two and half hours of video, to see hundreds of beautiful images, and to read much else besides. It offers a tour of the universe, from the subatomic particles to the solar systems. Yet it does so not only without reference to God, but in utter denial of him. God’s Word tells us that the heavens are declaring the glory of God and that the sky above is proclaiming his handiwork (Psalm 19). This app says the heavens are declaring the glory of Chance and the skies above are proclaiming Fate’s handiwork. “We are truly children of the stars, and written into every atom and molecule of our bodies is the history of the Universe, from the Big Bang to the present day.” It is Romans 1:18ff on perfect display. It’s a beautiful app (though difficult to navigate) and full of great information, but also full of the most ridiculous, God-denying nonsense.
Solar System is another app that takes us to the edges of our solar system. It is much easier to navigate than Wonders of the Universe and very much like The Elements in its setup. Yet it, too, tells us of a universe without God, a universe that just came to be. This solar system is “the Sun plus a tiny amount of builder’s rubble left over from its birth 4.55 billion years ago.” Yes, the earth is merely builder’s rubble. They even go out of their way to poke at the Bible’s Creation account: “In the beginning, about 4.55 billion years ago, there was a Giant Molecular Cloud.” Again, it’s beautiful and full of great information and amazing interactive graphics, but it also denies the truth that stares us all in the face each and every day.
Poems by Heart
Turning away from science, Penguin has recently released Poems by Heart, an utterly brilliant app for memorizing poetry. It combines a very useful learning technique with excellent poems and amazing graphics. In the past I have used several of the Scripture memory apps and, with due respect to them, this one is superior in user-friendliness, in beauty and in ability. I have two critiques: first, too many of the poems are simply too long and too difficult–I doubt anyone is planning to memorize all seven parts of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, though many of us might memorize seven shorter poems. Second, it would be nice if the people reading the poems showed just a little bit of enthusiasm rather than sounding like they just woke up. Still, it’s near-perfect. I would love to see it influence any of the apps that help us memorize the Bible. If I had even a tiny bit of app-developing talent, I would be all over that.
The Sonnets by William Shakespeare
The Sonnets by William Shakespeare combines dramatic audio and video readings of all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets by professional actors, while also providing introductions, notes and commentary on each of them. Many of the readings are just wonderful–David Tennant’s reading of “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” is near-perfect; Stephen Fry’s rendition of “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” finds just the right note of comedy; Patrick Stewart’s reading of “Let me not to the marriage of true minds” is wonderful.
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony
They don’t get a whole lot better than Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. This is easily one of the best-ever iPad apps. It “presents four of Deutsche Grammophon’s legendary recordings of this iconic work, with the amazing ability to switch instantly between each performance at any point in the piece. As you listen, you can watch the synchronized musical score, be guided by expert commentary, follow Beethoven’s 1825 manuscript or immerse yourself in the hypnotic graphical BeatMap of the orchestra, precisely highlighting every note. The app also includes a treasure-trove of specially filmed video interviews with musicians, writers and great conductors discussing Beethoven and his masterwork.” If you put on headphones and immerse yourself in the music, you’ll be amazed at what an iPad app can accomplish. I am hoping (and hoping and hoping some more) that they create an app for Handel’s Messiah or, second best, anything by Bach.
Christian App Developers
People are increasingly gravitating to their tablets to learn new things and to discover new experiences. Yet the best of the apps are not achieving the best of purposes in directing hearts and minds to the God who created and sustains it all. Christians should be the ones leading the way in exploring the planets and the atoms; Christians should be the ones exploring God’s gift of music and language. I want this to be a call to Christian app developers to explore, exploit and master this new medium. Look at these apps, and see the possibilities!
(Note: this is not to say that Christians are not developing good apps. However, I do think the best of the innovation, the best of the exploiting of the new medium, and the best of combining excellent information with beautiful visuals is coming from non-Christians.)